After a year in which Buriram United’s dominance felt as discouraging as ever for their Thai League rivals, the country’s second-best team has responded in dramatic style with three eye-catching signings and a fourth expected to follow soon.
Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiya have left Muang Thong United for Bangkok United, while Mano Polking’s side have also completed a deal for Anon Amornlerdsak from Buriram.
Sukhothai’s El Salvador striker Nelson Bonilla is set to complete an impressive quartet to add quality and depth to the squad that ended the 2018 campaign 16 points behind Buriram.
The timing of these moves is intriguing as the Thai season has yet to end, with the FA Cup final taking place between Buriram and Chiang Rai United on Saturday.
It will be interesting to see if such audacious transfer activity will unsettle the champions as they attempt to complete their first league and cup double since 2015.
Bangkok United have been runners-up twice in the last three years, while they finished the 2017 in third place. They clearly feel it is time to take the next step and knock Buriram off their perch, just as Muang Thong did two years ago.
For Muang Thong fans it was something of a false dawn as an excellent 2016 and start to 2017 were swiftly followed by a dramatic slump in form that allowed the Thunder Castle to resume their dominance of the Thai game. Buriram made it five titles in six years with a record T1 points total this year, suggesting that they were as far ahead as ever.
But Bangkok United have shown their determination to mount a serious challenge after a transitional 2018. Star attackers Mario Gjurovski and Dragan Boskovic left, while the defence was bolstered by the arrivals of centre-back Everton Saturnino and goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard.
While the Bangkok Angels scored an incredible 29 fewer T1 goals this year than in 2017, they also conceded 21 less.
With a more solid defence in place, Polking sees the opportunity to add more of an attacking threat again in the shape of two wing-backs in Do and Peerapat.
Photo credit: Bangkok United
A back three of Manuel Bihr, Everton and Mika Chunuonsee, flanked by Do and Peerapat looks impressive on paper. All five players are in their mid to late twenties and could conceivably play together as a unit for years to come.
Further forward, Anon may not be seen as a regular starter just yet but his progress was stuttering at Buriram, resulting in a loan move to Bangkok Glass for the second half of the 2018 season.
He will be 21 at the beginning of 2019 and the attacking midfielder should be given the chance to prove that he is more than just an option from the bench.
Finally, Bonilla may be the prolific scorer that Bangkok United lacked this year. Robson Fernandes’ return of 14 goals was decent but this was 11 goals less than Bonilla, who was playing in a relegation battle for Sukhothai.
At 28, Bonilla should have at least another two or three of his best years in front of him and the Bangkok Angels will hope that he can have the kind of impact that Diogo Luis Santo has made at Buriram over the last four years.
Bangkok United look to be building a team that can develop together over a number of years, so it will be interesting to see what Buriram’s next moves will be.
Diogo will turn 32 in May, while centre-back stalwart Andres Tunez reaches the same age two months earlier.
Seven of the side that started regularly for Buriram this year were over the age of 30 at the end of the season, so the need to reduce the average age of the squad is clear.
22-year-old wing-back Sasalak Haiprakhon was a revelation this year, while 20-year-old Rattanakorn Maikami has successfully filled the boots of veteran Suchao Nutnum.
Playmaker Supachock Sarachat remains inconsistent and injury-prone, but 19-year-old forward Supachai Jaided is an excellent prospect who has quickly fitted in to the first team.
Buriram’s blend of youth and experience may have another good year in them and their consistency this year suggests they may well have.
However, Bangkok United appear to have bought very well with proven T1 talents. It remains to be seen if the Bangkok Angels have what it takes to prevent Buriram from running away with another T1 title, but they have most definitely shown that they are up for the challenge.